Auto-enrolment workplace pension savings 'insufficient'

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Media captionAutomatic enrolment into pensions started in October 2012

Concerns have been raised that insufficient pension savings are being put into new, auto-enrolment workplace pensions.

Nearly 2.9 million people have been signed up under the scheme, figures from the Pensions Regulator show.

For many, the scheme means some money is being put aside for retirement for the first time.

But some say that contributions from employers are too small.

'Risk of disappointment'

Automatic enrolment started in October 2012. A slice of an employee's pay packet is automatically diverted to a savings pot for their pension, assuming they are aged 22 or over and earning at least £9,440 a year.

Employers are obliged to pay in as well, with the government adding a little extra through tax relief.

At first, an employee only sees a minimum of 0.8% of their earnings going to their workplace pension. Tax relief adds another 0.2%. Meanwhile, an employer is obliged to add a contribution that is the equivalent of 1% of the worker's earnings.

The biggest pension managers have told BBC News that only the minimum possible level was being contributed by between 66% and 90% of employers under the scheme.

These amounts will increase to a minimum 4% contribution from the employee, 3% from the employer, and 1% in tax relief from October 2018, but there are fears that this will still be insufficient.

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Image caption Employers are obliged to put 1% of a workers earnings into this type of pension

"There is certainly a risk of disappointment, unless we can encourage people to put more money into their pensions. For now getting started is great, but it is only a start," said Tom McPhail, pensions expert at Hargreaves Lansdown.

"It is understandable that employers are just starting off with the minimum of contributions because their pension bill is going up. However, between them and their employees we need to get to a point where more money is going in, otherwise these employees are going to be disappointed when they do get to retirement."

Will Aitken, a senior consultant at Towers Watson, said: "It is important to understand that the contributions required by law were only ever supposed to be a minimum; they are not the government's suggestion of the 'right' amount to save."

Retirement income

Eventually, an estimated nine million workers will be signed up to pensions under auto-enrolment. Under the contribution levels, someone aged in their early 30s, being paid £22,000 a year, could build up a pension income of less than £3,000 a year.

Those enrolling in their mid-50s might receive no more than a few hundred pounds a year as income from the pension in retirement.

Experts and ministers say it is vital people make a start at an early stage in their working lives, to eventually have savings that will top up the state pension.

Staff have an option to opt out of being automatically enrolled, if they would rather save or spend in their own way.

Those who already save in a workplace pension scheme or are self-employed are not signed up through automatic enrolment.

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